On October 11 the meeting-requiem, devoted to the 75 anniversary of the escape was held on the territory of the Museum of Jewish resistance in Novogrudok. The descendants of the prisoners and Novogrudok residents came to pay tribute to the escapees’ courage and the great desire for freedom.
On September 26, 1943, 232 of concentration camp prisoners used the underground tunnel they were secretly digging for several months to break away. It is one of the most famous acts of Jewish resistance to the Nazis in the occupied Europe.
The descendants of the former prisoners came from all around the world to honor the memory of their loved ones. The first time in 77 years Zipora Erez came to the land of their ancestors. Zipora was born in Novogrudok and moved to Russia before the invasion. Her foster father, Nathan Yankelevich, ran through the tunnel. Nellie Azhukhovska (Tsauber) came from Israel. Her father Mordekhai and the brother Leo dug a tunnel and escaped through it. Nelly’s husband Alex, who also survived the Holocaust in Romania, and her son Eli arrived in Novogrudok too. In 60 years the son and daughter of a former Bielski group’s partisan Israel Yankelevich returned to their native land. Shushan Dalman was born in Novogrudok. She studied in the Russian school till the fifth grade and moved to Israel in 1960. Her father was taken to the camp, but he managed to escape and became a partisan of the Bielski group. Her mother Shifra was also a partisan in the Bielski group. Zinovy Belsky from St. Petersburg came to honor the memory of his cousin Tuvia Belsky. His aunt Zelda Belsky was also in the ghetto and later in the partisan group. The meeting was attended by the Chairman of the Novogrudok District Executive Committee Mr.Anatoly Markevich and the Chairman of the District Council of Deputies Mr.Sergey Misharin.
– Today we are here to recall the events happened 75 years ago in Novogrudok, said Anatoly Markevich. — War is always a fear of pain and terrible victims: children remain orphans, and parents turn grey before their time. During the Great Patriotic war Novogrudok land lost more than 45 thousand of the civilian population. A terrible page in history was the Holocaust. But people didn’t break, people didn’t obey, and began to fight. Jewish resistance is the example of this.
In August 1942, a labor camp was established in Korelichskaya Street. The Nazis executed half of the ghetto’s population in May 1943, according to testimony from survivors. There were only 232 Jews left. They were the last Jews in Novogrudok. The underground planned and organized an escape, and for three months a 250-meter-long tunnel was dug, through which the 233 Jews remaining in the ghetto tried to escape on September 26, 1943. About 170 of them succeeded in reaching the forests, where they joined the Bielski partisans’ brigade. The rest were shot and killed either during the escape or afterwards, when they were caught by the Germans in the forests.
For more than ten years Betty Cohen from Israel has been studying the history of the Novogrudok ghetto and searching for the descendants of former prisoners. Her mother Fanny Dunets was Secretary of Judenrat (Jewish council) in the ghetto and managed to escape through the tunnel.
– I’ve conducted a large study of the fate of about 240 Jews -said Betty Cohen. – And this is the story not only of those who ran away, but it the story of their children, the story of another generation. My work began in 2007 when I came to Novogrudok with my friend. It all started with a list that defined the order in which prisoners had to escape through the tunnel. I started to translate the names from Yiddish into English and did not even think that it would take ten years. I met and talked with those who were in the ghetto, with their descendants, worked with documents, specialists in genealogy. During the research, the list, which had 130 names, was supplemented, and now it has more than 200 names. The fate of 30 people is still unknown. The data collected became the basis of the book I am writing and which will be published next year.
Among the participants of the escape was the Kushner family. Zeidel, his two daughters, Rae and Leah, and son Hanan. Former prisoner of the ghetto, Jack Kagan was made an honorary citizen of Novogrudok for his contribution to preserving the memory of the history of the Jews in Novogrudok. This year Israel Kalachik died. He dug a tunnel, hid in the attic with his father and aunt and when everything went quiet after the escape they ran into the woods. In Israel and the United States four of the escapees still live.
– Some of the former prisoners tried to close this page of their life for themselves, — Tamara Vershitskaya noted. – So their descendants for a long time knew nothing and only thanks to Betty they discovered the truth. We appreciate it and keep the memory of such people. For us, Belarusians, today’s event is the return of our history.
The history of the Novogrudok ghetto is not complete. People will continue to meet here and memorial signs will be installed. The Memorial Garden of the desires of the Novogrudok ghetto prisoners has already been planted. The Memory Wall is being erected, and the tunnel itself with the exposition will be soon established. In July 2019 there will be the Grand opening of the Memory Wall, and more than 200 descendants of the Bielski partisans will come to Naliboki forest. In memory of 232 prisoners who made the most massive and successful ghetto escape in Europe, the participants of the event lit candles. Dozens of candles were installed on the Memory Wall next to the name plates of the ghetto escapees. Flowers were laid to the Memory Wall by the participants of the meeting.
Later In the assembly-hall of Novogrudok Trade and Economic College there was a meeting of descendants Novogrudok ghetto prisoners with the youth. The conversation was emotional and interesting not only for the guests, but also for the young people. Some of them discovered Novogrudok and unknown pages of the history of his native town.
The teacher of secondary school No 5 Lyudmila Makarevich and student of the 11th grade Danila Ponomarev presented their research work «The role of the Jewish community in the development of infrastructure of Novogrudok in late XIX — early XX century.»
— Studying history of my native town, I was convinced that it was famous for its tolerance, – Danila told. — I often heard from the elderly that before the war Novogrudok was called a Jewish town. It was very interesting for me to know how many Jews lived in the town and how they influenced the development of Novogrudok. In my work I researched the life of the Jewish community, as I am sure that it will help understand the history of my homeland better.
The result of Danila Ponomarev’s research was the creation of the town’s map, which bears the industrial, cultural and social facilities of the Jewish community. In memory of the meeting, the card was presented to the guests. And they, in turn, shared their memories and impressions of the town.
As Nelly Kozhukhovskaya told, many years ago she studied at the Financial College (today Trade and Economic College). She remembered the lessons, teachers and dance classes with a special feeling. Shoshana Dalman remembered the orphanage in Grodnenskaya street, next to which her family lived.
The guests talked about the inhabitants of Novogrudok, the authorities, who do a lot to preserve the history of the Jewish community with great gratitude. They sincerely thanked for the warm welcome and the opportunity to share their memories and thoughts.
Translated by Helen Chal